British banks beat 25% target for women directors – but still lag behind EU rivals

The European number is also flattered by the fact that some European countries have opted to impose quotas

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Britain’s banks have beaten a target of having 25 per cent women directors, but still lag behind their main European rivals, research by the headhunter Astbury Martin will reveal today.

However, research by The Independent reveals that when it comes to the top executive roles, an all-male club still rules. 

The search firm says the percentage of board members at the UK’s biggest banks who are women has risen significantly, to 31 per cent from just 19 per cent three years ago. 

But it says banks in Europe have achieved 35 per cent, although globally the figure is much lower at 22 per cent. 

The European number is also flattered by the fact that some European countries have opted to impose quotas to improve female representation on boards.

Norway, France, Spain and the Netherlands have already introduced rules governing the number of women on boards, and Germany will join them next year. 

The European Commission has been pushing for measures to improve female representation on boards across the trading bloc. But while organisations such as the TUC have spoken in favour of them in Britain, the business lobby is strongly opposed. 

Lord Davies has been leading an effort to secure greater gender diversity on boards, having recommended that FTSE 100 companies have at least 25 per cent women directors by 2015. The beleaguered miner Glencore was the last holdout with an all-male board. 

Asbury Martin highlights prominent non-executive directors such as Gay Huey Evans at Standard Chartered, who is a former senior regulator and banker; Wendy Lucas Bell, a serial company director now at Barclays; and Carolyn Fairbairn, the former BBC executive who will, however, give up her role at Lloyds when she takes over from John Cridland as director-general of the CBI. 

But while banks have rapidly hired female non-executives, the same cannot be said for the people running them. 

None of the executive roles – usually chief executives, finance directors and sometimes chief risk officers – on the boards of the big four UK banks are filled by women. 

Astbury Marsden said  countries such as Japan and the US had faced even less pressure to diversify and still had far fewer women directors. It highlights the boards of the top US banks, with just 23 per cent female representation, and Japan’s with just 7 per cent. Two of Japan’s largest banks have no women on their boards.

China, which had previously performed highly on female board representation, with women taking up 21 per cent of banking directorships in 2012, has fallen back. Just 16 per cent of the board members of China’s biggest banks are now women.

None of the executive roles at the big four are filled by women